The 2009 Tour de France proved something of a roller coaster for Australia’s seven riders who at least did what each of them regards as the minimum measure of success 00 survive the journey to arrive in Paris as most sacrificed themselves for their teams for the past three weeks.
But earlier today on a sunny Champs-Elysees, the Paris finale offered a fitting stage for Bathurst’s Mark Renshaw to come a brilliant second to Britain’s 24 year-old ace sprinter and teammate Mark Cavendish.
While the final day procession into Paris before the serious breakaways and final sprint took centre stage — offering Tour winner Alberto Contador nothing more taxing than balancing his ceremonial champagne glass and toast to his own success, the stunning climax was anything but anti-climatic because of the brilliance of Cavendish.
While ultimately the day belonged to Contador, his biggest stage really came the previous day in the punishing summit finish on the desolate upper reaches of the extraordinary Mount Ventoux, where what seemed at least a million people lined every step of the 21km climb to the top.
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In its own way this ascent specifically designed to unmask any remaining General Classification pretender still hanging on by his bicycle clips who couldn’t handle one final supreme (Highest Classification) mountain test, proved only that Contador’s main rivals were not disgraced. If the Spaniard was content to not fully test himself to ensure Astana teammates Lance Armstrong and Andreas Kloden were still a chance to join him on the Paris podium, in the end only Armstrong kept up his end. He held on to third spot 73 seconds away from Saxo Bank’s second placed Andy Schleck — himself 4min 11sec behind Contador.
Schleck had his moments on Mount Ventoux but Contador always had him covered. Schleck’s time will come as he gets older, stronger and more experienced, but with the rise of others now such as Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (4th) Contador could yet have a battle on his hands defending his crown next year. Not least from the redoubtable Armstrong who although he will be 38, anything is possible with another year of racing under his belt where he lost nothing in the mountains.
As for the sprints, Mark Cavendish is indisputably the world’s fastest road sprinter, but in the 14th Tour stage he was disqualified from gaining any sprint points towards the green jersey awarded to the overall sprint points champion when he was ruled to have unfairly squeezed out his chief rival Thor Hushovd. While he then spat the dummy and declared that if Hushovd won the jersey in Paris which he did, it would be tainted, he’s since apologised and made up with the likeable Norwegian. Winning the green jersey now becomes unfinished business for Cavendish. What’s not to argue with is just how incredibly fast Cavendish is in those final few hundred metres, as he sought to crown his outstanding Tour with his sixth and most important stage win in Paris.
At the end of the eighth and final loop, no sooner had Garmin-Slipstream’s rival train loomed up to offer the prospect of an upset in a blanket finish in the final kilometre, than America’s George Hincapie responded to the challenge by aiming the Cavendish train on an alternate line heading into the open space of the Place de la Concorde. It was then Renshaw’s turn with his characteristic sustained high speed burst as Cavendish stuck to his rear wheel around that final turn without resorting to brakes. They rocketed towards the Champs-Elysees finish line with their closing speed so paralysing that Cavendish finished the easiest of winners, and Renshaw still had enough momentum to deliver Columbia-High Road a remarkable one-two stage win.
The Manx man throughout this year’s race has gone out of his way to pay all due credit to the precision and race smarts of his teammates who provide that perfectly positioned final sprint train. But today he explained exactly why he has complete and total trust in his Aussie roommate and “wing commander”. As reported by AFP he said of Renshaw.
“I am probably the luckiest sprinter on the planet, because I can look at Mark’s back wheel with 50kms to go and know I will be delivered at the front 200m from the line,” added Cavendish, who now has 10 stage wins from the past two editions.
“Our team puts us there, but Mark’s positioning is phenomenal. He rides a bike like he rides a tandem, he knows he has to go through a gap I can also get through. “That is the trust I have in him and him in me.
“To come away with first and second on the Champs Elysees makes it all the sweeter.”
For the other Aussies other than Heinrich Haussler who came away with a decisive 13th stage win, it was a mixed Tour due more to Cadel Evans going from one of the Tour favourites to also-ran. But with Thor Hushovd also able to count on another Aussie final sprint delivery rocket in Brett Lancaster in his quest for the green jersey, and the likes of Michael Rogers also being a major help to Cavendish and Renshaw, and evergreen Stuart O’Grady being a bull in the peloton for the Schleck brothers, there were far more wins than misses.